Pepco to upgrade Friendship Heights substation

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The Harrison Street substation, currently decorated with murals, is slated for an extensive upgrade. During the work, Pepco will have a temporary station in the fenced-off area next door. (Brian Kapur/The Current/April 2017)
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Pepco will begin a long-delayed project next month to modernize a 1940s-era substation on Wisconsin Avenue NW in order to address an increased demand for electricity around Friendship Heights.

The $137.5 million project would gut the interior of the old substation building at 5210 Wisconsin, across from Harrison Street NW, to upgrade its equipment. The finished substation will run more quietly and efficiently, according to Pepco. The exterior of the building, which currently features two murals dedicated to President John F. Kennedy, will see new landscaping added and more window space for artwork.

During construction, the electricity load will be transferred to a temporary facility at 5220 Wisconsin Ave., the former Classic Motors car dealership. Pepco purchased that site in 2011 and has spent the past two years on preparation work, including extending underground transmission lines along River Road, Western Avenue, Jenifer Street and Wisconsin Avenue.

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Pepco officials presented their latest plans for the substation at the April 13 meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3E (Tenleytown, Friendship Heights). They said the project will be completed in three phases by late 2018.

The first four months will require removing large equipment from the substation, meaning heavy truck traffic in and out of the site. The second phase of the project, beginning in September and lasting a year, will include installation of three new transformers and solar panels.

“We’ve done a lot of maintenance on it over the years and done some upgrades, but we’re going to put all new equipment in it,” Linda Greenan, external affairs manager at Pepco, told ANC 3E.

The final phase of the project will take down the temporary equipment at 5220 Wisconsin Ave. and complete work at the modernized Harrison Street substation.

Pepco officials said that they don’t expect noise to be emitted from the temporary site, which will transmit electricity but won’t generate it. After the project is completed, Beal said that “if Pepco does not have a need for the property, Pepco would be willing to sell the excess property” at 5220 Wisconsin, a parcel some community leaders have hoped could be redeveloped.

Pepco officials had previously told ANC 3E that the project would begin in 2014 and be completed this summer. Asked about the delay, Pepco spokesperson Marcus Beal told The Current that “the project is on schedule” but did not elaborate.

ANC 3E asked Pepco to minimize sidewalk disruptions during construction and update the community on large deliveries. Greenan said that 72 hours’ notice would be provided for large deliveries.

ANC 3E chair Jon Bender also asked for more plantings. Officials said that, once completed, the substation’s new transformers will be completely enclosed, and an eco-friendly green wall will surround part of the site’s perimeter.